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134 On Monday morning, the two hundred-­ person crew prepared for the long-­ distance test run at sea. We boarded the ship, and every­ one knew his place. As the captain, I gave the order to start the main engine, and within five minutes every­ one was ready. I stepped into the control tower with General Herbert. The atmosphere was quite formal, just as it had been when I was a real captain , but ­ today, I was just a reluctant captain. As for the tasks at hand, we ­ were still experts. We had been sailors in the RVN Navy only five months earlier. I could see that ­ after we put our shoulders to the wheel, every­ one became more alert and enthusiastic. I gave the order to weigh anchor. The ship gradually sailed away from the wharf, leaving the U.S. officers and the dock ­ behind. I waved good-bye to every­ one and maneuvered the ship out to sea. Sailing away from Guam, I sketched out our itinerary on a chart. The test run was twenty-­ four hours, during which we would circumnavigate Guam twice. With our plan documented, I went down to the dining room and drank a cup of coffee with General Herbert and a few other high-­ ranking U.S. officers in charge of the repairs. As I drank my coffee, smoked my cigarette, and spoke with the officers, it appeared as if I was my former self again, a captain. But in real­ ity, I was deep in thought and sorrow, and my mind was elsewhere. In this state, I worked like a machine. In fact, I thought we all resembled corpses without souls. Then General Herbert spoke, bringing me back to real­ ity. He remarked, “I knew you ­ were experienced, but I ­ didn’t ­ really believe you had enough expertise to control a ship as large as this one. Now that I can observe how you maneuver and navigate the ship, I can see your skill. You order the crew in such a calm manner . I can tell you are an expert captain of the highest caliber.” “General, you are praising me too much,” I responded, even though I was proud of his ac­ know­ ledg­ ment. “As a ­ matter of fact, I have had more than ten years commanding warships. Even though the Thương Tín is bigger than most warships , in princi­ ple and practice, they are all alike.” C HA P T E R E L E V E N Leaving Guam Leaving Guam  135 Then the director in charge of repairs reported that the engine, radar, communication equipment, pumping system, and anchor ­ were all in good working order. However, the ship would have to sail at a high velocity continuously for twenty-­ four hours. Only then would we know for sure ­ whether the ship was seaworthy. Next, General Herbert and I deci­ ded to tour the ship and watch the crew in action. We observed the men in the engine hold, the radar post, and the cockpit. In each location, the sailors worked diligently and conscientiously. The ship was in the correct position, and the crew followed the itinerary exactly as I had drawn it up. I felt reassured. General Herbert noted the crew’s skill and trustworthiness, and we agreed that they ­ were ready. They had worked hard, ­ because they, too, wanted to return to Vietnam.­ After sailing for twenty-­ four hours, the ship returned to the harbor. Every­ thing had gone smoothly and without a single glitch. Even though I had worked without sleep, I felt fine. Hope began to flow within me, as I realized the date of our return was fast approaching.­ After the test run was complete, the U.S. officer in charge announced that his duty was done, and the ship was ready. General Herbert had a grim expression, with only a half smile on his lips. Still, he shook my hand in praise. He continued : “Tomorrow, you and the crew can move on board the ship and prepare for your departure.” I felt so grateful. “General Herbert,” I answered, “yes, we are ready. Thank you for your trust and faith in our mission. I feel you are always at my side.” v Enjoying a deep sleep for a few hours, I woke up feeling refreshed. Then glancing over at the bed next to mine, I saw Tấn with his arm across his forehead, looking as if he ­were deep in thought...


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